Time to Walk Out of the Fog
The following post is in from Charlotte Wells. Charlotte lives in Shoreacres, TX and is the Galveston Baykeeper.
Since we first learned about the proposed Bayport container facility, there was fog (figuratively). The project made no sense economically, environmentally or socially. The only entity that wanted this behemoth (another word for awful project), was the Port of Houston Authority (POHA) backed by people who stood to profit. . . in a huge way, including but not limited to, engineering, construction, and shipping companies all subsidized by taxpayers. How did the POHA accomplish their goal? POHA claims jobs and an influx of dollars in regional economy. Voters bit. Taxpayers built a port. Opportents to this bad project learned that even when you spend time, money and resources to stop a bad project, the cards are stacked against you. So, the taxpayers built a port. Business community made huge profits. Now our community is stuck with an empty terminal, environmental damages and few jobs. No profit or need ever materialized and the multi-million dollar cruise ship terminal sits idle. Container companies moved from Barbor’s Cut, one POHA container facility, to Bayport. Revenues did not go up but they did spend taxpayer money.
So, a few people profit while the pubic as a whole lost. Now, hundreds of permits later, we see that this scenario is repeated over and over with little to no public input. The most recent example is the proposed Grand Parkway, Segment E, a loop around a loop around another loop. Galveston Baykeeper, Sierra Club and the Citizens Transportation Coalition found ourselves in similar circumstances as we read the Harris County Toll road Authority’s Public Notice on the USACE’s website. The public will pay to build a loop that will enable developers to sell land, houses and strip centers where there is no real need to construct a road. It is a case of a unnecessary road subsidized by taxpayers to benefit developers.
One opportunity for our community to stop/oppose/slow down this monster was grounded in the Clean Water Act (CWA), a federal law protecting water quality. When the law was passed, elected officials understood that wetlands filter and retain water, and understood the need to replace a wetland's functions and services if development could not be avoided. That was then and this is now. Restoring the wetlands we have lost can be cost prohibitive and bringing attention to the potential coastal and economic damages to wetlands destruction has been an historic way concerned citizens can stop a destructive project. Before the construction of Bayport, the property had more than 100 acres of jurisdictional wetlands in 1998. After the Supreme Court decision known as SWANNC, we were left with less than three acres of protected wetlands.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines wetlands as “lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface.” Wetlands are some of the most biologically productive areas in nature and our wetlands here in Galveston Bay are home to many different species of birds (Snowy Egerts, Rosette Spoonbills) and fish (Red drum, Spotted Seatrout) that make this area so rich. The wetlands prevent soil erosion and slow down large storms that the Gulf of Mexico is known for in the summer months. As we saw with the Bayport container facility, the destruction of our wetlands and Bay isn't just about protecting our wildlife, its' about protecting our economy and our community.
As the Galveston Baykeeper, I find myself on the front lines of trying to protect this area. We need strong, comprehensive federal and state protections for our wetlands and to use existing studies which prove the significant nexus to navigable waters. The goals of the Clean Water Act is to protect water quality. By using a precautionary approach, instead of calculating how much damage is acceptable, we can ensure fishable, swimmable water for future generations.
Bayport is in the past. We can no longer afford to subsidize bussinesses at the expense of the public and our environment. Lift the fog by working to create sustainable communities that protect both our economy and our environment.